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1 August 2021
Airbnb and other sites could help make you £10,000s from letting your home or spare room. This is a crash course in safely renting out your spare room or entire property for short periods, from getting the best price to the right insurance.
Short-term room renting sites are industrial-scale matchmakers: linking up owners who have spare rooms with travellers hunting for a short-term place to stay.
Hosts can seriously boost their income, and guests often pay much lower rates than at hotels. The sites profit by charging fees to hosts and guests.
You'll usually need to own your home and live in an area that gets visitors. You're effectively running a small-scale hotel, so it's not without faff and hassle. You must be happy to wash sheets, meet to hand over keys and deal with occasional drama.
If you've a room going spare, it's worth weighing up whether taking in a lodger long-term would be an easier way to bring in some cash.
A massive name in the world of spare-room renting, Airbnb* has more than five million listings in over 190 countries.
Who's it for? It's a slick, usable site which means it's a good place for newbies to start. Anecdotally, hosts receive more bookings from their Airbnb listing than from other sites.
How big is it? Over five million listings worldwide.
Fees? It charges most hosts 3%. The fee for guests varies depending on the room's price and other factors such as stay length - Airbnb says it's typically under 13%. See full details on fees.
How does payment work? Airbnb charges guests when the reservation is confirmed, then releases the amount for the whole stay to you 24 hours after they've checked in. (If a guest stays for 28 nights or more, you're paid monthly.) You can get payment by PayPal or wire transfer (directly from Airbnb) – see more on how payouts work.
Fancy putting up Sir Ian McKellen in your spare room? Well, OK, he can probably afford a hotel, but Theatre Digs Booker (TDB) helps cast and crew find places to stay while on tour.
Who's it for? People who'd enjoy having actors to stay – they always have a story to tell. If you work in theatre, TV or films, even better.
How big is it? This is a niche UK site with just 3,400 hosts currently advertising rooms.
Fees? It charges hosts 10% of the booking price.
Any protection offered? No, you'll need to sort your own insurance.
How does payment work? Guests pay a 10% deposit on booking, which Theatre Digs Booker keeps as its fee. Guests pay the remainder directly to hosts on arrival.
Can you let your whole home? No.
Many people let their whole place out while they're on their hols, effectively paying for their trip. You could let your home out during a big local event such as Wimbledon, or while you stay with friends or family.
As with renting out a spare room, short-term letting sites make advertising your home a cinch. As you won't be in the property while guests are staying though, it's more important than ever to get the right insurance.
The amount you can get varies according to your property and location, but, for example, a two-bed flat in Leeds could bring in around £100/night or a three-bed house in Edinburgh £130/night.
Airbnb above lets you rent out a whole home – so before looking at the sites below, check out our review.
The following sites are specifically for renting out an entire property, so are worth adding into the mix.
The holiday rental section of TripAdvisor* features over 630,000 listings worldwide. Your home doesn't have to be available for a certain amount of time per year and there's no initial joining fee.
Who's it for? People who want to rent out their entire home and want more exposure than just Airbnb.
How big is it? Over 630,000 listings worldwide; 65,000 in the UK.
Fees? It charges hosts 3% and guests 8-16%, depending on the room's price.
Any protection offered? It doesn't offer a guarantee, so it's more important than ever to get the right insurance. It lets you set a security deposit.
How does payment work? TripAdvisor takes guests' payments, then releases the amount for the whole stay to your bank account 24 hours after they've checked in.
Another site worth a look, HomeAway.co.uk* features more than 1m properties worldwide. Again, there's no obligation to list your home all year round.
Who's it for? HomeAway's fees are higher than other sites', so this is only worth adding for belt 'n' braces if you've tried the other sites first.
How big is it? More than one million properties worldwide.
Fees? You have two options: join free and pay 8%+ commission on each booking; or pay a £249 annual fee but then pay no commission. (Paying upfront is very unlikely to be worth it if you're only letting for a short time each year.)
Guests also pay a service fee of 6-12%.
Any protection offered? It does not offer a guarantee, so it's more important than ever to get the right insurance. It lets you set a security deposit.
How does payment work? Similar to TripAdvisor, HomeAway takes guests' payments, then releases the amount for the whole stay to your bank account 24 hours after they've checked in.
This is the doozy. You can earn £7,500 tax-free each year from letting a spare room or your whole home (if it’s your main residence), under the Government's Rent a Room scheme.
The scheme applies when short-term guests stay in a furnished room or rent your whole property – as long as it is your main home. It also applies if you take a lodger or run a B&B/guest house. It works whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
In the draft Finance Bill, the Government proposed a crackdown on people who used the tax break when renting out their entire home. Owners would have needed to be present for at least some of the guest’s stay. However, the Government scrapped these plans in the October 2018 Budget.
You currently have two options to reduce tax, though you can only use one of them, not both. So do your homework first. (Tax is paid via your tax return, after you've taken the money from Airbnb.)
It depends – there are a number of variables and it can be complicated, so you're best off crunching the numbers or even getting advice. The main factor tends to be your expenses though.
If they're less than the tax-free threshold of £7,500, it's likely you may be better off with the Rent a Room scheme.
The most common types of expenses you can deduct if you choose NOT to take part in the Rent a Room scheme are:
See more information on what counts as expenses on the Gov.uk website.
Before you list your pad on Airbnb or other sites, ask yourself – what happens if all your treasured possessions are stolen? Or there's a wild party and your home's trashed? For example, see this £8,000 Banksy print stolen after home was rented out on Airbnb.
Most insurers don't cover those renting out rooms or their home as standard. What's more, even if your guests are impeccably behaved, if you haven't told your insurer you could be in trouble.
Renting out all or part of your property without telling your insurer could invalidate your home cover permanently – even when you don't have guests staying. So before you even think about doing this, get the right protection in place.
Buying cover from mainstream insurers can be tricky. This is because insurers class you as a higher risk as they feel the chances of damage, theft or items going missing increase.
Though we normally say to use comparison sites for your home insurance, on this occasion contacting a specialist or local broker can be the best option. Here's how to find a policy (see Cheap Home Insurance and Cheap Contents Insurance for Tenants for more general tips).
Call your home insurer and tell it what you're planning to do. It may extend your existing policy for a fee or a change to your premium – get a quote and compare it with the specialist options below.
The price you pay, and whether your insurer decides to cover you at all, will depend on whether it's a spare room you're letting out or the whole property, how often you're planning on doing so, how many people are staying and your previous claims history.
If it agrees, your premiums are likely to increase. You can do this for standalone home or contents insurance, or for a combined policy.
Yet even with an extension to your home insurance, many policies don't cover theft or accidental damage by paying guests, which means a whole host of things won't be covered – such as if your guests damage your newly tiled kitchen floor or steal your TV. So always check the small print.
The alternative option to get cover is to contact a broker that will specialise in tailoring a quote for you. You can do this if your home insurer won't extend your cover, but it's worth doing even if it will, so you can be sure you're getting the best price and cover.
The following brokers told us they would be able to give quotes for people renting out homes or rooms: Home Protect*, Intelligent Insurance* and Towergate. Another route is finding a broker via the British Insurance Brokers' Association's website.
You can also go to insurers directly. The following major providers told us they can offer appropriate cover: Admiral, Aviva*, Churchill*, Direct Line*, and Privilege. (All provide policies for renting out a room, but not all cover renting out a whole home, so check.)
If you get cover for renting out your home/room, please let us know how it went.
If the worst happens, repair or replacement costs could run into thousands and while you might assume Airbnb's 'host guarantee' will pay up, you could be wrong. The guarantee is riddled with exclusions and limitations. (It's unlikely a standard home insurance policy will cover you either – see more on finding insurance above.)
The host guarantee from Airbnb is NOT an insurance policy. Yes, it covers up to £780,000-ish of damage caused by guests. But in practical terms it doesn't cover a lot.
In fact, the following are exempt: cash and securities, pets, personal liability (in case of injury to guests; also known as 'public liability'), shared or common areas, and items such as jewellery, collectibles and artwork. Other sites' guarantees have similar holes.
Read full details on the host guarantee.
If you have a mortgage, check the terms and make your lender aware you're renting out all or part of your home. Breaking the rules could mean a worse rate, an additional fee or, ultimately, even repossession (though this is unlikely).
We asked five big mortgage providers their policies and most said they decided on a case-by-case basis – rules vary by mortgage product/individual circumstances. Many are likely to grant permission for you to rent out a spare room, though you may need to pay a fee or change rates.
Some mortgages allow you to let the entire property for a few weeks, though you'll more likely need to pay a fee. If you're renting out a home for any longer, you may need to switch mortgages – again, check with your lender, as terms vary.
If you rent your property or live in a housing association/council property, it's unlikely you'll be able to rent a room out. Most contracts ban tenants from subletting, which includes renting out a room via Airbnb, so always seek permission first.
If you're a leaseholder, you also need to check with your freeholder that it is allowed within the terms of your lease. Unfortunately, many leases do ban you from renting out rooms.
Tim Clarke, partner at Clarke Mairs solicitors, says: "In practice, if there is any complaint, then provided the owner agrees not to do it again, no further action will be taken. If, however, they ignore the complaint, this may result in legal action and, in extreme cases, the lease could be forfeited and the flat taken off the owner without any compensation."
This can be big-money depending on your commitment. The amount you can get, of course, depends on your pad and location, but here's some inspiration...
James tweeted us:
@MoneySavingExp We're on Airbnb and make about £400 a month from our spare bedroom. It's great fun too.
@MoneySavingExp We've been doing it since May and have found it a great experience. Met loads of lovely people and got extra cash. The only downside is the cleaning and sheet washing, but the money makes up for that!
Forumite mas2000 says:
I've been renting out my spare room in Aberdeen for the last couple of years – just passed the £6k in revenue mark. This last year has been a little quieter. I have had only a positive experience thus far, hosting some interesting people.
To get your home or room buzzing with bookings, you'll need to create a brilliant listing. On Airbnb, you first cover basics such as location, property type, number of rooms and amenities.
Next write a clear and concise description, summing up your pad's main selling points. For example, is it near public transport, historical landmarks or a thriving food scene? Check out popular listings to see what other hosts include.
To avoid miffed guests writing reviews later, note any access issues, eg, if visitors need to cart their cases up five flights of stairs.
Try to answer any questions they may have. Which rooms can they use? Are linen and towels provided? Can friends visit? Are internet and parking facilities on offer? If they're renting a spare room, can they use the kitchen?
Also consider specifying if you don't want certain groups, such as stag and hen parties, or folk arriving in the wee hours. Spell out if there's an extra charge for extra guests – as you'd be surprised how many rock up with an extra person in tow.
A final point to consider is setting a two- or three-night minimum stay to cut down on cleaning and admin – though this will also mean a drop in bookings.
If you don't set a realistic price for your room or property, you'll be waiting a while for any bookings. So do a recce of your area on Airbnb to check other hosts' prices and make sure you're competitive.
Remember, guests looking for somewhere to stay will also compare your rates with hotels', so check the local Radisson is not undercutting you.
Be flexible around pricing, to respond to supply and demand. If your home's within spitting distance of a major event such as the Edinburgh Festival, for example, tweak prices around that date.
Equally if you're not getting bookings, consider lowering the price to reel in guests. A half-price opening offer may help you drum up trade until you build up some sparkling reviews.
Many hosts offer preferential rates for long-term guests who want to stay for a week or more, because it cuts down on admin and cleaning.
With so many people offering up their gaffs, the first few seconds viewing your pics can be make or break.
Put some effort into your shoot: clear clutter, do the washing up, leave out fresh towels and put the loo seat down. Capture items that guests can make use of, such as a coffee machine, bath products or a TV in the spare room.
When someone requests to stay at your home, vet their profile to help weed out crooks or fraudsters. Look up their reviews from their previous hosts and do a quick spot of googling for anything dodgy on their Facebook page, etc.
It's worth asking a few questions to get the lay of the land. For example, what time will they arrive and check out? And do they have any specific plans for their stay?
Consider only accepting guests who've uploaded proper Airbnb profile photos, not a dog or a duck. Also be wary of those who joined recently or ask to pay in cash.
Airbnb offers a 'Verified ID' process, where guests send it a copy of their ID, upload a photo and connect their profile to their Facebook, Google or LinkedIn account. You can change your settings to require guests to complete this before booking (this is for the guest who is booking, not other guests accompanying them).
Airbnb lets you choose between allowing guests to reserve available dates instantly, or you can confirm you're happy for them to stay first. Airbnb says listings are more popular when people can reserve right away.
The snag with instant booking is you can't check people's profiles first to filter out potential hucksters. Another problem is people might not read your listing properly before booking – and assume they can bring kids or check out late, when you don't allow this.
That said, some hosts favour instant booking as they bag last-minute bookings they mightn't have got otherwise.
Under the Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, anyone in Northern Ireland providing 'tourist accommodation' needs a certificate from Tourism NI.
Whether you need a certificate depends on if the room or property you're renting out is deemed to fit into one of Tourism NI's tourist accommodation categories. If you provide breakfast or have en-suite bedrooms, you'll likely need one.
Call Tourism NI to check on 028 9044 1545. If you do need a certificate, you can apply online. Tourism NI will inspect your property and you'll be charged a fee (starting at £40).
Most sites, including Airbnb, let you charge a security deposit of between $100 (£80) and $5,000 (£3,900) in the event of something going wrong. Hosts set the amount and must add it to listings before bookings. Airbnb doesn't give the amount in pounds, though, so to decide the figure you'll have to check the exchange rate on the day.
The security deposit covers accidents such as spilled wine on the rug, a broken window or an unreturned key.
Airbnb takes payment details from guests when they book, but only takes the deposit if there's a problem. If you need to make a claim on your security deposit, you can do so in the Resolution Centre within 14 days of your guest’s checkout date or before the next guest checks in, whichever is earlier. Sign in to your account and go to Your Listings > Your Reservations > Report a Problem.
If your guest disagrees, go to Airbnb's 'Resolution Center' and click 'Involve Airbnb'. It will review the information/documentation provided by you and your guest, and make a final decision.
It's worth noting there's a certain amount of wear and tear that's to be expected that you won't be able to claim for, such as chips out of your sink or a broken towel rail.
Think it's just a case of handing over the keys and showing them where the loo is? Think again. Here's how to be a fab host and hopefully get tiptop reviews:
Obviously, you don't want to sound like a grump, but you'd be surprised what needs spelling out. So it's worth writing a friendly list of expectations for guests.
For example, say how often you'll change the towels and whether guests can use the washing machine.
If you're just renting out a room, let them know if they can make use of your sitting room anytime. When using the kitchen, are they limited to just the kettle, 'heat and eat' only or are they free to cook a four-course meal? Also add a line on whether they can bring visitors round and between what times.
Whether you're renting out a whole property or just a room, Airbnb normally allows hosts to pick from three cancellation policies – flexible, moderate and strict.
Under the flexible policy, guests get a full refund if they cancel their booking more than 24 hours before arrival – with moderate, it's five days. The strict policy gives a 50% refund until one week before arrival. Refunds always exclude Airbnb's fees.
If guests don't cancel within those deadlines, the host keeps the cash for the full stay (minus Airbnb's fees).
There are a few more policies you can choose in special circumstances, eg, for long-term stays over 28 days, where guests pay monthly. See Airbnb for a full list and explanation of all the options.
Picking your policy means striking a balance. A strict one may discourage bookings, but with a flexible policy you lose out if someone cancels last minute. As a rule of thumb, if you're jammed with bookings, consider a stricter policy. If not, go flexible.
Just as on TripAdvisor, Airbnb guests review your home after their stay's complete. You can voice your feelings about them too, which encourages guests to leave the place as they found it.
Airbnb used to publish reviews as soon as they were submitted. Yet this discouraged people from leaving complaints, in case the other person retaliated with a negative review.
Now you each have 14 days to post a review, and your reviews go live on Airbnb at the same time. You both get a star rating, and there's also an option to respond to the review.
Fire safety law applies if anyone pays to stay in your property on a short-term basis. The exception's if you have someone staying in it as their permanent home, eg, a lodger.
Ensure you have a clearly marked fire escape route, and post a map of it in your home.
By law in England and Wales you're responsible for taking steps to protect the people using your home from the risk of fire. You need to carry out a fire risk-assessment, improve your fire safety measures if necessary and keep the risks under review.
You can do the fire safety check yourself or arrange a free one by your local fire and rescue service. This Government booklet explains more, including how to carry out a check. Depending on the risk your property poses – and if any guests report you – you could be inspected by your local fire service.
There are separate rules and regulations for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
By law, you also need to make sure your heating is in good working order, via an essential gas-safety check. See full information on this.
In London, hosts are banned from renting out their homes via Airbnb and other short-term rental sites for more than 90 nights a year.
Airbnb’s system automatically limits entire home listings in London to 90 nights per calendar year. If you want to rent out your property for more days that this, you need to apply for planning permission to change your property’s use.
See Airbnb’s full guide to the 90-day rule.
We're not saying turn your home into the Savoy, but guests will expect a comfortable bed, a mirror and a wardrobe with hangers.
It's worth getting an extra telly for the guest room if you're renting out rooms, as this can help discourage them from monopolising the lounge.
To help, top-quality goodies are available daily for free on Freecycle and Freegle.
What's the catch? There isn't one. Instead of dumping goods or eBaying them, people harness the web's power to offer them to their local communities. So as well as kitting up for nowt, the environment benefits too, as unwanted items aren't flung into landfills.
Bagging the best is all about the etiquette – you need to also give yourself and keep your eyes peeled. For a full step-by-step guide, see Freecycle & Freegle Tips.
If you're after a bed or TV, eBay sellers often list bulky or heavy items as 'collection-only'. This limits the number of potential bidders, so serious bargains can be had. eBay doesn't let you search for collection-only so we built the free Local eBay Deals Mapper to locate 'em.
If you're looking for ways to rake in a little more, our 60+ Tricks To Boost Your Income guide can help you add to your coffers. Here's a taster:
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